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UN rights chief warns of escalating violence in Myanmar

GENEVA (AP) – UN human rights chief warns of military escalation in parts of Myanmar and a rise in violence, with the army using heavy weapons against armed groups as well as civilian targets, including Christian churches.

Michelle Bachelet said more than 108,000 people had fled their homes in eastern Kayah state over the past three weeks, and her office cited “credible reports” that security forces bombed civilian homes and churches and blocked access to humanitarian aid.

“Myanmar’s army, the Tatmadaw, has a duty to protect civilians,” said Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The international community must unite in its demand that the Tatmadaw cease the scandalous use of heavy artillery against civilians and civilian objects,” she added.

The army, which toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February, faced widespread opposition to its regime, initially through massive non-violent protests. After soldiers and police used lethal force to crush peaceful protests, a low-level armed insurgency emerged both in the towns and in the countryside.

Bachelet’s office cited credible reports that at least 860 people have been killed by security forces since February 1, mostly during protests, and that more than 4,800 people – including activists, journalists and opponents to the junta – are in arbitrary detention.

“In just over four months Myanmar has gone from a fragile democracy to a human rights catastrophe,” Bachelet said. “The military leadership is uniquely responsible for this crisis and must be held accountable.”

Bachelet is expected to brief the UN’s highest human rights body, the Human Rights Council, at its next session in July, his office said.

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